Thursday, October 2, 2008

What is influence? Can it be defined by ONE number?

These news about Google going for a patent for technology that would rank the most influential people on social networking sites “rattled my cage” a little bit for a number of reasons; allow me to explain:

My dear friend Marc Smith (Sociologist, Microsoft Research) has been working in this space for so many years I can’t really remember the number; he has had a number of publications about it and has tried HARD to get these concepts into web search technology; here a sample of his work: Visualizing the Signatures of Social Roles in Online Discussion Groups and then some other work that has built on top of Marc’s work: Learning Effective Ranking Functions for Newsgroup Search, Erin Brill

Because I have had the advantage of being educated by Marc and others; as well as tried to apply these concepts in my own practice I hesitate to believe that it is possible to define a simple”Influence Number” that can be used in the absence of context.. in other words; I think Influence is a relative term and the actual calculation of it depends on the context in which the influence need to be measured; for example:

  • If your social media effort has as an objective the propagation of a certain message then your influence is defined by the speed and number of new “nodes” a given individual delivers.
  • If your social media effort has as an objective awareness and improved brand affinity your measure of influence is a combination of the reach (number of people affected, touched by) as well as sentiment (after someone was touched, did the sentiment towards the brand improved?)
  • If your social media effort is about peer support then your measure of influence has to do with the number of questions answered, and number of people that benefited from it.
  • etc.

What do you think?

Filiberto Selvas

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